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Snow Leopard: This Cat Has Fleas

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After nearly a year in release, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard still seems be a work in progress.

I keep trying to upgrade to Snow Leopard, but always end up back with Leopard. I have both operating systems installed, using separate partitions of my MacBook’s hard drive, and keep thanking myself that I didn’t cut the umbilical cord to Leopard when I installed Snow Leopard late at OS 10.6.3.

My procrastination about installing Snow Leopard had much to do with there being no really “gotta have it” new features in 10.6, but I’ve discovered that there are lots of small tweaks that I like and appreciate using. Unfortunately, it’s just been too buggy to make it worth my time.

The Bugs

Even at OS 10.6.4, Snow Leopard is still as buggy as a flophouse mattress. Here are some of the issues I (and others) have encountered.

Spaces support keeps crapping out, taking keyboard response with it, requiring endless Dock quits and reboots in order to get things working again. See here, here, here, here and here for examples, discussions, and workarounds pertaining to this bug. Less monotonously aggravating, but occurring frequently enough to be tedious, I’ve found that keyboard input also sometimes dies randomly independent of the Spaces issue, and in those instances doesn’t respond to quitting and restarting the Dock. I’m left with just the trackpad or mouse to shut things down in a reasonably civilized manner and reboot the system.

My MacBook will randomly wake up from sleep unbidden in Snow Leopard. More discussion of this bug here and here.

The Heat

Adding insult to injury, my MacBook (2.0 GHz, 4 GB RAM) runs some 15° to 20°C hotter in Snow Leopard than it does in Leopard, with the same suite of applications in play. I absolutely hate fan noise, but it’s nearly constant background accompaniment in Snow Leopard. And I thought OS X .6 was supposed to be leaner and more efficient, imposing lower overhead demands on hardware? Discussion links here and here.

I can only tolerate three or four days of this before losing my patience and booting back into the serenity and stability of Leopard space. I guess I should be thankful that Leopard continues to do such a fine job, and I am, but the problem is that more and more applications are requiring 10.6 and later for their latest updates. MacSpeech Scribe, for instance, requires OS 10.6. The proverbial writing is on the wall.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that an OS 10.6.5 update  will squash some of this bugginess, but I have to say that it’s not a very lively hope, given that the problems cited here were evident in OS 10.6.0, and four revisions later they’re still with us.

And yes, I don’t doubt that there are lots of users out there getting excellent service from Snow Leopard. I’m happy for them, but that hasn’t been my experience with this cat species, nor the experience of others who echo my complaints. Leopard, and Tiger before it, are proof that Apple can do better.

What about you? Nearly a year later, what has your experience with Snow Leopard been?

130 Responses to “Snow Leopard: This Cat Has Fleas”

  1. I think to blame your problems on supposed bugs in Snow Leopard is going a bit too far. I have 4 Macs at home running Snow Leopard, and none of them have had these kinds of issues, including my MacBook Pro which is used every day and all day. Either you’ve got some hardware issues, or you don’t know how to properly install and configure Mac OS X.

  2. Snow Leopard for me has been about the same overhead as Leopard. Certainly not a heat-maker or a noise-maker. However, there are bugs. By far the most obvious is this; if you’re typing in the search line on Safari, an autocomplete drop down choice of terms emerges. And each time you hit the space bar, if your mouse cursor happens to be over that drop down, it blanks what you’ve typed and goes at that immediate point in time with whatever gibberish is in the drop-down window. Absolutely ridiculous. I’ve given up using the Google search line on Safari and either resort to Firefox or else going to the Google home page.

  3. William Carr

    You have a problem, and it’s not Snow Leopard.

    As you can see from the feedback, a very few people agree with you and most don’t.

    I have a 2006 MBPro that runs fine on Snow Leopard.

    Could it be faster?

    Yeah. I actually tried turning off the trackpad’s “prevent accidental input” feature and SL took off like chasing a rabbit… but then brushing the trackpad causes more trouble than it’s worth.

    I think you have a hardware incompatibility with Snow Leopard.

    Try diagnosing the problem from that point of view.

    Check your mouse drivers, software plugins, peripherals…

    I once had a defective Logitech Mouse that caused Kernel Panics on a weekly basis before I tracked it down and tossed it.

  4. CharlieR

    I have been running SL since the day it came out, on my 2006 iMac and never had a single issue with it. Although I get asked many times to look at friends or colleauges macs because of issues they experience and it has been 99% of the time user error or something they installed that caused random bugs. Also why is it when someone is having somekind of issue they go to extremes like in some of these posts?

  5. The same question always comes to mind when I read a post like this – about problems I don’t experience with either my iMac or MacBook:

    Have you ever considered some of the other crap you have loaded on your computer may be part of the problem?

    I don’t work within some pristine Apple-only panoply of software; but, everything I install has to have a reputation of being designed to work well within the environment I offer.

    That was as true before I switched to the Apple environment – and, golly gee, I only seemed to experience “universal” problems with any of the OS’ I used previously.

  6. Alexandre Strube

    Here, works like a charm. No temperature differences, no keyboard problems (on the contrary), and the multilingual spell check in every text box is worth everything for someone who usually writes in at least six languages throughout the day.

    BTW, I have four Macs. All Snow Leopard now. Two with clean installs, one with apps and user migrated from time machine, and other which is being upgraded since Panther.

    Oh, and it runs actually cooler than leopard in here.

  7. Hi I am also a MBP 2.2ghz owner and gave had no problems with SL

    I would definatly advise a clean insatation and see how that goes as there were some problems with the update a couple if the needed to be resubmitted by apple.
    Also on the waking from sleep, this could be a feature! As all SL installed wake from sleep to publish there sharing on to the network from time to time.

  8. Azhar,

    I think the problem with Safari is how is handles Flash. If I reboot and run Safari using ClickToFlash (a Flash-blocking app) I never have an issue. But as soon as I enable Flash on certain sites, Safari goes nuts (very slow, sometimes never recovering from the beachball wait),

    I haven’t experienced this issue with FireFox.

  9. I must say that I H-A-T-E Safari 5!!
    Seriously, how could this bag of hurt leave Apple’s labs?? It seems to me — and pardon my ignorance if I’m wrong — that Apple no longer stresses on Q&A.
    Safari 4 was such a marvel…

  10. I add myself to the list of people without a single problem with Snow Leopard whatsoever. And I started using the betas distributed in WWDC, and even at that time I never got any of the serious errors you mention. I think it’s your Mac (hardware) that has a serious problem.

    • and i add myself to the list of people who have the same problems described above and in the links. Just because you don’t have the problems, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. So much for it just working.

  11. I had the heat problem too. At first, I couldn’t figure out why my iMac kept crashing… But one day I happened to touch the upperside of my Mac, and behold! I could fry an egg on this!

    I downloaded SMCfan control- a real life saver. And now its ok…
    What puzzles me most is that the iMac’s fans are supposedly auto-regulated; but in my case they never increased the rpm when the CPU was heating up(sometimes as high as 60degrees, especially when using flash on Safari, or using iDVD)

    I also notice that Finder is sluggish, compared to that in Leopard.

  12. I have had nightmarish problems with Snow Leopard on my iMac. Fortunately, I did not upgrade my wife’s MacBook which never has an issue other than the Mail app (another story).

    Where to start? ALL of my Pro apps constantly crash, especially Final Cut. My work time with video editing has nearly doubled for several reasons: outright crashes so I now have to save after every significant edit; very, very slow operations and there is always dropout lines in me video playing.

    In fact, in every operation of the iMac my main screen does not refresh so I don’t always see the entire active window until I drag the window off-screen and then bring it back.

    Watching movies is a problem because of the lines dropping out to expose what is beneath the current window. It reminds me of watching over-the-air TV in a fringe zone.

    All-in-all, I like a lot of the nuances of 10.6 but it is miserable to live with the problems. I have rebuilt the system from scratch twice. Even replaced the hard drive. I attribute most of the problems to the fact that I think the GPU is now being used for more operations than pure video presentation but this is only a guess.

    I’ve been afraid to go backwards to 10.6 as I upgraded most of my apps to operate in a 64-bit environment. So let’s hope progress is made by Apple – quickly. (I feel like I’m running Vista!)

  13. I have been running Snow Leopard on my late 2008 15″ MBP without experiencing any of the bugs you listed. I upgraded from Leopard and have been running fine ever since. BTW, I am a heavy user of Spaces.

  14. I upgraded to Snow Leopard and immediately started having issues. Especially with using Mail for my RSS feeds. I am on Hughes Net Satellite for my internet and I started hitting my bandwidth limits within hours. Took me a few days to figure out what was going on and what was causing it. When I did figure it out Apple Care support couldn’t solve the issue right away. I really like using Mail to read my RSS feeds that I keep track of but had to disable it. Finally it stopped and still don’t know what the fix was.

    The worst was that my Dreamweaver stopped working, as well as iTunes. Never could get Dreamweaver to work with the upgrade. But I recently went to have my CD Rom replaced that had quit working and while at Apple Care I had them to do a clean reinstall of Snow Leopard. I wanted to see if Dreamweaver would work with a new install and it did. Got my iTunes back too.

    For me I guess that there were some issues with the upgrade that caused a lot of problems. So far doing the clean re-install has helped. If not I am like you and going to go back to Leopard.


  15. This is very strange as well. I use all of those features and have been very happy with Snow Leopard. I’m not saying it is problem free, no OS is and it surely is not. But I do not really agree that it is so buggy it is beyond all use.

    • That’s interesting. I have a 2007 MBP 17″ (2.1 C2D 2,33GHz), a 2008 White MB (CD 2.0GHz) right here, both showing the same unexplicable massive temperature rise after updating to SL. No fancy additions (I checked all the kexts), two completely different usecases and applications, Idle CPU usage is around 2-3% (so no rogue processes eating CPU), ambient temperature about 23C.

      The MBP will very quickly under light but idle usage (Mail, Camino (flash disabled) with a couple static webpages, Adium, Vienna) with approx. 8% CPU usage heat up to at least 60C at which point both fans are spinning at 6000RPM already and permanently stay there.
      According to iStatMenus the CPU draws around 3W (sometimes 6W but a SMC reset or simply putting it to sleep and wake it up again fixes that), the GPU 3.5W which I would consider pretty decent. The system is also too hot to touch on the top case.

      Now if I actually use the system a little (like watching a SD video on YouTube via Flash-enabled Safari) the CPU will very quickly heat up to 90C and more at which point one of the following will occur:
      – Video/audio stutter (CPU throttling itself?)
      – The Yukon chips crashes making network unusable (fixable again by sleeping and waking up)
      – Graphic artefacts occur or the graphic system freezes (remote login still possible!)
      – The whole machine just freezes and needs a reboot

      To get anything “demanding” done, like the backup of my Photos to a TrueCrypt encrypted drive I have to remove the battery to make the machine limit the CPU to 1GHz in which case it won’t overheat. Otherwise I have to make sure that I interrupt the “demanding” at around 80C and resume at around 60C.

      With Leopard the same system stays cool to the touch in the same idle state and can even be operated as a laptop. The fans normally spin at their minimum 2000 RPM and will only audibly spin up if I export a video from iMovie or batch process RAW images.

      Oh, I do have a 23″ DVI Monitor connected; I know this makes a difference because when I don’t, the GPU draws a bit less power and the system sometimes tones down a notch when completely idle.

      So I really do not buy the explanation that the hardware must have went bad. In fact I’m pretty sure that Apple either botched up the powermanagement implementation for older processors (Merom for instance) and or is driving the hardware too hard.

      Unfortunately I can’t go back to Leopard on this machine due to software requiring SL.

      The MB has the exact same issue. There I could downgrade, though.

      I also have a friend with a 2007 15″ MBP also having the exact same troubles.

      I have been a very good Apple customer, also converted a whole small company to Macs, but this is absolutely ridiculous! I’m on the verge of getting two shiny new Macs replacing my old work machines, but if they’re not getting their act together and fix the legacy support I won’t buy another piece of Apple hardware.

  16. Jamie Kirkpatrick

    I agree with the previous commenter…you must have something wrong with your system because for me this is as stable as any other OS release from Apple in the last 10 years. All this stuff about spaces crashing taking the dock with it etc – never seen anything of this sort.

    Have you tried a completely clean install of the system yet?

    • That is just a great comment: you must have something wrong with your system. So because of your own experience, no one else can have one that is different? What about all of the other links provided where people are all complaining about the same problems?
      You sound like Jobs: there is no problem here, move along!

  17. I have none of these issues and it is NOT normal. For you or anyone else. I would think that is obvious actually. Do a clean install and run Cocktail or another tool. Also Diskwarrior.

  18. I find Snow Leopard so good in so many ways that I’ve been okay with dealing with some serious bugs. It is taking longer to stabilize than Panther or Tiger or Leopard, but its ability to deal with Active Directory is so important to me that I would not go back. Period.

    At home, I use it simply because I don’t want to be using two different versions, one at home and one at work. Plus the benefits of Snow Leopard when it’s working.

    Here’s hoping Apple squashes the serious bugs soon! Can I get a harumph?